Richard Perle

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Richard Norman Perle (born September 16, 1941 in New York) is a former aide to Democratic Party senator Henry Jackson, former Undersecretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, and later as civilian advisor to The Pentagon as a member of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee. He remains registered as a Democrat out of "nostalgia [and] respect for Scoop Jackson"[1] and John F. Kennedy. Outside of the public realm, Richard Perle served on Hollinger International Incorporated's board of directors along with Henry Kissinger. He was nicknamed "the Prince of Darkness" for his hard-line position against the Soviet Union. He is a prominent neoconservative.


Richard Perle grew up in Los Angeles, attended Hollywood High School, and then the London School of Economics, received a BA in English from the University of Southern California in 1964, and received his MA in political science from Princeton University in 1967. Richard Perle once dated Albert Wohlstetter's daughter, Joan Wohlstetter. Albert Wohlstetter also introduced Richard Perle to his then student Paul Wolfowitz.


Richard Perle as a teenager with his parents.

Perle has a longstanding interest in the problem of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In 1998, he co-signed a letter from PNAC to then-President Bill Clinton; it called on the President to "implement[] a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power" and noted that "[t]his will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts."[2] The letter also argued that Saddam Hussein's development of WMDs would result in grave risk to Israel, American troops in the region, moderate Arab states, and the world's oil supply.

Shortly after 9/11, Perle pressed for action against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. He maintained that Iraq was involved in terrorism, that there were documentable ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, and that a primary goal of the war on terror should be to topple Saddam. He said that terrorists should be pursued "even if we cannot prove to the standards that we enjoy in our own civil society"—presumably proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as is done in criminal trials--"that they were involved." [3]

Throughout 2001, 2002, and 2003, Perle continued to advocate war with Iraq as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee. According to one report, he claimed that only 40,000 troops would be required for the invasion, which in his view would involve taking control of the north and south, thus cutting Saddam off from the oil fields. He is also quoted as saying that "[t]he Army guys," who had been calling for far more troops, "don't know anything."[4] Perle later stated that his view on this had been "distorted" and his proposal for 40,000 troops referred to "a different strategy in which we were working with the opposition."[5]

His views on the Iraq war have changed in several ways:

  • Neoconservative involvement in planning for the war. In a 2003 interview, Perle stated that the Office of Special Plans, headed by fellow neoconservative Douglas Feith, was "the organization within the policy side of the Defense Department that was responsible for planning with respect to the war....You could have called it the Iraq war-planning group."[5] In a 2006 interview with Vanity Fair, however, he stated that "neoconservatives...had almost no voice in what happened...and certainly no voice in what happened after [Saddam’s] downfall.[6]
  • Legality of the war under "international law". In the 1998 PNAC letter, Perle and his cosigners stated that "we believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf."[2] In 2003, however, he stated that "international law...would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone."[7]
  • Overall opinion of the wisdom of the war. As noted above, Perle was originally a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq. In a 2006 Vanity Fair article, he stated: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists'....Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have."[8]

Overall, Perle acknowledges that "mistakes were made," and he is clear about where the buck stops: "At the end of the day," he has said, "you have to hold the president responsible."[8]


  2. 2.0 2.1 Letter to Bill Clinton from the Project for the New American Century
  3. CNN interview with Richard Perle on 9/16/2001
  4. AlterNet article on Richard Perle
  5. 5.0 5.1 Frontline Interview with Richard Perle
  6. American Conservative article on the Iraq war.
  7. Guardian story describing Perle's comments on the legality of the invasion
  8. 8.0 8.1 Vanity Fair interview of several neoconservatives